Welcome to the deep underbelly of Instagram.
Spoiler alert: It’s all fake.
We all know this in the back of our heads of course, scrolling through impossibly beautiful scenery and bloggers in impractical outfits on top of mountains and carefully edited shots. But that’s part of the appeal. It could be real, if only we could get there.
In an effort to build up my following (and maybe become an Instagram influencer myself) I joined an Instagram pod.
What are these, you ask? These are secret groups formed by bloggers or other Instagrammers intent on scamming the system. This is because Instagram’s algorithm prioritizes engagement above all else, ideally in the first few minutes after something is posted. Members of a pod pledge to like and comment on all of the other member’s posts.
I'm just a girl, asking for a ridiculous amount of likes for a ridiculous SUP Yoga pose.
The pod I joined was actually pretty awesome. It was a group of girls I had met online that all shared the same passion for travel as me. We got to know each other over our group message and many of us have met up in various cities as we travel.
Y'know, because we all skateboard down completely empty mountain roads to our Apple playlist #sponsored.
But the real reason we were together was all business: Growing our Instagram following.
At first, the pod was awesome. We commented on each other’s photos and suddenly I was getting closer to 100 likes for my posts instead of 15 or 20. We traded hashtags we knew worked well over our messages and shared our tricks for what time to post.
Then, Instagram changed their algorithm again.
They started to crack down on pods and certain hashtags would get you blacklisted, dropping down to 5 or 10 likes because your posts wouldn’t be seen anywhere. These hashtags ranged from what you’d expect (#sexy) to seemingly innocuous (#easter2017) and if you overused certain hashtags, you’d get blacklisted too.
Plus, maintaining the integrity of the pod was getting more and more difficult. I constantly fell behind commenting and liking on all 9 other member’s posts, most of whom would post more than once a day. I couldn’t keep up with the constant stream of notifications on my phone.
Ah yes, my hair and outfit look exactly like that when it's over 100 degrees in Greece in July.
But I was able to gain 100 more followers in the span of only a few months. This is small, I know, but for me, that was a huge percentage increase.
The jury’s out on whether pods still work or if Instagram really has cracked down on them. For my part, it was fun to get to know a group of girls based around the world (Paris, Bali, NYC, Mexico, and Colorado) and an interesting introduction to the darker side of Instagram.
If you'd like to see what all the fuss is about (and for a whole bunch of wanderlust-y travel photos) follow me on Instagram @kllewkow.